Wednesday, December 8, 2010


    Tarnation was quite an interesting documentary to watch. It was both fascinating yet disturbing at the same time. Further, it appeared to have no structure other than chronological time when watching it for the first time. It wasn’t until after I had done the readings and critically thought about it that I was able to form my own opinion on John Caouette semi-autobiography.

Picture Perfect Family
    Unlike traditional documentaries Caouette’s documentary seemed rather surreal. The fact that Caouette suffered from ‘depersonalization disorder,’ “feelings of disconnection from his own body and constant intimations of unreality” (Arthur, 880), definitely gave the film it’s unique perspective. As Caouette once stated “I conceive the film as a new way of looking at documentary, as though it were imitating my thought process, giving the audience the experience of seeing what it was like to be inside my head” (Arthur, 880). This unique perspective while one could argue that this makes Caouette “prone to unreliable narration” (Arthur, 880), I think this allowed him to film and capture things we would never otherwise see. “Home movies have been characterized as providing highly selective, idealized glimpses of family life” (Orgeron, 48).

Caouette - Role Playing
    Caouette’s film not only captures the flaws and secrets within his family but it also allows him to better understand himself and his disorder, “the film ends up exposing Jonathan’s, suggesting throughout that video has become his primary way of knowing, interacting, understanding, and finding out” (Orgeron, 55). Moreover, filming himself and his family through his perspective allows Caouette to express himself in a healthy and safe manner. “Narrative is used as a therapeutic process” (Arthur, 872). We see how the camera has helped Caouette early on, before he used the camera as a coping mechanism he resorted to drugs and violence as his outlet which resulted in being hospitalized a few times. By expressing himself through another character, role playing with his family, or just simply talking or listening to another family member talk to the camera Caouette embraced the disorder that surrounds him, and attempts to aestheticize it (Orgeron, 55). And this is what made the film so surreal. The fact that Caouette used a camera in attempt to make sense and somehow to bring order to the chaos he was experiencing through his disorder and his far from picture-perfect family.

    This film shows that while a camera is an invasive object, it’s sometimes is the only way to make sense of your surroundings and overcome obstacles. Further, Caouette’s presentation of his family through his own perspective, not only allows us (the viewers) to connect or sympathize with him because we can relate to some of the experiences, but it also shows us how Caouette overcame a great deal of hardship (his mother’s overdose, hospitalization and his disorder) to become the successful person he is today.

Work Cited List:
Arthur, P.. (2007). THE MOVING PICTURE CURE: Self-Therapy Documentaries. Psychoanalytic 
            Review, 94(6), 865-85.  Retrieved December 8, 2010, from ProQuest Psychology Journals.

Orgeron, Devin, and Marsha Orgeron. "Familial Pursuits, Editorial Acts: Documentaries after the Age
              of Home Video." Velvet Light Trap. 60. (2007): 48-56. Print.

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